Before heading to the to USA last month, my ideas about the place came almost exclusively from CSI, with a little Breaking Bad thrown in for good measure. Naturally I was expecting to come across multiple crime scenes, drug-dealing chemistry teachers, and Horatio Kane look-alikes peering over their sunglasses as they nutted out ways to snare the latest killer. Of course, that’s about as sensible as basing your views on Auckland solely on Highway re-runs (it’s not all like that in the big city, I promise!). Still, my 4 weeks in the dairy heartland of the USA were a real eye opener – and not only because murder mysteries were nowhere to be seen.
The first surprising thing was that there actually is a dairy capital of the USA – Wisconsin proudly announces this fact on every state numberplate. I have to admit that I never actually saw a real live cow during my stay in Milwaukee, but the abundance of ice cream and frozen custard, complemented by the display of full-size fibre-glass cows at the local dairy bar more than made up for that fact.
What else was surprising? Well, the number of large things, for a start. The USA does a reputation for excess, but I had hitherto been under the impression that things like giant gumboots and carrots were the domain of Kiwiana. In fact, the Rakaia salmon would’ve looked right at home in the local baseball stadium, amongst the giant mitt & racing sausages. That’s right, racing sausages. The 5 oversized bangers took off in a sprint around the stadium just after the 6th innings, attracting the loudest cheers of the entire game.
Going to a baseball game was quite a cultural experience in itself – the drumrolls and giant TV screens were great prompts for when to cheer, but it was the other spectators who put on the best show – cheese-shaped hats were the order of the day (dairy capital, remember). It was also at the baseball stadium that I came across a new definition of the word ‘tailgate.’ In Wisconsin, this refers to a BBQ party out the back of your pick up truck, not sitting for hours in Auckland traffic. As someone who abhors traffic jams, you can understand why I was initially hesitant about “going tailgating” – cheese curds and sausages put paid to any doubts.
All in all, I’ve learnt that the USA is a much tastier, less lethal place than I imagined, and that large things are a great talking point in many parts of the globe.
Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian